Author’s Note: Sometimes the biggest changes in your life take place with the smallest of steps.
Graymar and Kaffi stood together at the edge of the roof of Building C as part of their afternoon watch. Kaffi could see Annie and Diwa across the way, having an quiet but intense conversation. Diwa seemed worried, and Annie was doing her best to calm him in her own animated ways. He briefly wished he was over there with them, but knew he couldn’t, not right now. Duty called.
His paddir, on the other hand, seemed highly distracted and irritable today, far more than usual, but as far as Kaffi knew it had nothing to do with any argument with Samuel this time. His ears twitched constantly, and he couldn’t seem to focus on any sounds for too long, and that alone was annoying him. He huffed and scratched at his snout, trying to clear his head. Kaffi said nothing, worried that he’d set him off somehow.
Eventually Graymar’s eyes landed briefly on Kaffi’s arm, and he gestured at it. Not dismissively, but not with any sense of pride, either. “I see you’re wearing an armband,” he grumbled.
“Iliah—” he started.
“She told me,” he said curtly.
Kaffi ruffled his wings and glanced at his paddir with concern. He’d been in such a positive mood a few hours ago when he and Iliah had left. “Is there something wrong?”
Graymar’s snout turned slightly dark, his mouth a tight line. “No…” he said and let out a slow sigh. “Nothing you need to worry about.”
Kaffi knew better than to try to get a clearer answer out of him. He wasn’t angry, or at least not angry at him. Graymar would explain his irritation sooner or later, so he let it go for now.
“Paddir…” he started, changing the subject. “Can we start the flight training soon?”
“Patience!” Graymar said, a little more brusquely than he’d meant to, and immediately felt embarrassed by the outburst. “Ai…” he exhaled, squeezing his eyes shut and grumbling. There was a minute ripple of his wings that he could not quite hide. A moment later, the mood passed and he turned to him once more, touching him on the arm and squeezing it once. “I apologize, pahyoh,” he said quietly, all traces of annoyance now gone. “This is not about you. I’ve just had a lot of personal things on my mind lately, some I am loath to face right now.” He gave him a slow smile, showing just a few fangs. “I know you are eager. I want you up in the air just as badly as you want it. But there are still many things you need to practice. I have watched you over the last month and you have been doing well, but you are still too loose.”
Kaffi bristled and ruffled his wings again, holding back a whine of irritation. “Paddir, I need more experience, I agree. But I can only learn so much doing laps and exercises and carrying packages in my satchels. I’ll be used to that in a few weeks at most. What I need to do is take the next step, paddir. I need to know what it feels like to have a ride with me. Or close to the real thing. How did you practice that before you started flying with Samuel?”
Graymar leaned slightly forward, scratching his snout once more, distracting himself with anything that might be happening on the central green. He hummed low and long; he was irritated, but also maybe a little amused. Embarrassed? “How Samuel and I began flying together is a completely different process,” he said after a moment. “And not one I recommend.”
Kaffi hid a smile. The two of you had no idea what you were doing, he thought. Instead he dipped his snout and faced him directly “How can we make this work, paddir?”
Graymar hummed again, meeting his eyes. His irritation had disappeared for the time being, replaced by a calm appreciation. “I know a way. It will be slow, but it is how many of our relatives learned over the years. I will contact my ahpadé and ask if we can borrow a few things. We will need to go on a short light rail trip.”
Kaffi caught his breath and struggled to keep his wings from rippling with excitement. “Really?” he chirped. “What does it entail?”
His paddir merely grinned at him, humming contentedly. “You shall see.”
This might have been just another weekly meeting of future landlords and co-conspirators, but Kaffi was looking forward to it this time out. It had been an unbelievably busy day, and between all that flying and monitoring and errand-running, he couldn’t wait to check in with Diwa again. They’d crossed paths multiple times today, but never for more than a few moments, and he’d grown to miss him since their brief chat this morning. And he really wanted to show off that new armband!
So when they all sat down together at one of the picnic tables on the center green, he sidled up next to Diwa an gave him a happy nudge, glad to be beside him again. “Heya, Dee,” he said. “Long time no see.”
“Well, this is new,” Diwa said, prodding at his arm, already giving it a close study. “You got this today?”
Kaffi smiled proudly, rubbing his talons against the beads. He loved soft clicking sound it made when he did that! He didn’t mind Diwa’s attention either, come to think of it… “Iliah gave it to me during our trip to the city this afternoon. I thought I’d keep it on, get used to wearing it.”
Anna-Nassi had seen it too, and she was practically radiating with excitement, her wings twitching and flittering. “So lovely!” she squeaked. “Diwa, isn’t it? Oh, I can’t believe you’re wearing one of those already!”
“It’s probably past time,” Kaffi smiled. “I’ve always been fascinated by them. My cousins that are around my age are already wearing them. Diwa, what do you think?”
“Interesting pattern,” he said, running a finger over the shapes. “I like how the closer you get to it, the more patterns you see in the beads.”
Kaffi smiled at him, hiding an unexpected shiver of glee. “I’ll explain the symbolism with you sometime.”
“Why not now?” Anna-Nassi asked.
“Later,” he said, giving her a quick wave. “It’s time we started our meeting. I think the fertilizer stink has escaped Diwa’s pores by this point.”
He playfully prodded Diwa in the arm and quickly changed the subject. “Annie, you said you were looking into having someone come in to look at the apple orchard. Were you able to get anywhere with the committee on that?”
She ruffled her wings and gave an excited nod. “Ooh, yes! It’s looking great! They’ve already discussed the budget for it and they’re meeting tomorrow to put it to a final vote, but my amma is certain that it will pass. They’ve left it to me to research available horticulturalists that might be able to come in and see how healthy our trees are. I’ve got a list from Cole’s parents as well as from Elise-Nooviya, so I’ll go over those in a day or so and see who’s open and what they charge. Once that’s done, we can start in on cleanup. I’m going to ask the tenants for a few volunteers, but I should be able to get enough people, especially if I can get some of the school kids to pitch in. It’s a bit late in the season for some of the varieties we have, but we might be able to save the others. I’ll start phase two upkeep once we have it active again.”
Kaffi nodded, impressed by her level of detail. “That’s great, Annie! Excellent work!”
“Maianni-naahsah, Kaffi,” she nodded, flashing her wide smile at him. “I aim to please.”
“Yes, that’s fantastic!” Diwa added as he scribbled out the meeting notes. “If most of the trees are still healthy, then we should be just fine.” He turned to Cole next, flipping over to another notebook page as he did. “Cole, any word on what might be going on with the co-op farm?”
Cole tapped his fingers against the table in a slow beat, pausing in thought. “There’s not much to report right now. My parents won’t be heading over there for a few more weeks, so I don’t have much information to give. I am, however, researching their hiring practices. I’d like to know how their field workers get paid, available health coverage, and how they would hire those here at the estate. I’d like to be prepared for any questions our tenants might have. It’s quite a complex process that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.”
“Good, good,” Kaffi said. “And you, Diwa?”
Diwa blinked, tapping his pen against the pad for a moment. “Well, uh…Samuel’s back room actually has a bit of a floor to it now,” he said with a lopsided smile.
Anna-Nassi snorted at him. “That’s it?”
“That’s it,” he said. “I wish I had more to provide, but I was gardening with Tassh all morning, talking with you afterwards, then assisting at the community center this afternoon. I mean, unless you’d like to know all the different ways you can serve inashikraw squash and the sordid details of kleeat manure.”
“Oh, come on!” she giggled. “You’ve been busy this week, you’ve got to have something!”
“Really, that’s all I have,” he shrugged with a grin. “But spending all that time with Tassh was kind of fun, to be honest. He’s quite talkative once you get to know him. He might know a lot about construction considering that’s his day job, but he knows even more about gardening. It’s been his passion since he was little. The only reason he’s not in farming is because of his family. He makes the most money out of the three of them and it goes into their rent and their savings.”
Cole tapped his fingers on the table again. “Diwa, do you think he would be interested in working at the co-op full time?”
Diwa pondered the idea for a moment. “He might,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “You know, that’s a great idea. Once we’ve got the hiring straightened out, I’ll float the idea his way, see if he’s interested.”
“We could use as many hires as we can. I think he’d be great for the first wave.”
“I believe he would,” he smiled.